What does it mean to be inclusive?

In the current environment, there have been challenging conflicts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and increasing movements toward banning it. Three states have already passed bills banning or limiting DEI in higher education institutions, and another eight have laws in place (Adams & Chiwaya, 2024). The number of colleges and universities banning DEI is deeply concerning, given the ever-changing nature of the US population (Marijolovic, 2023). DEI in higher education encourages practices and policies so everyone has an equal opportunity for success and inclusion regardless of their background. These current events place teachers in the crossfire. Yet, any of us who have been teaching for at least several years, if not longer, recognize our students' increasing diversity and changing needs. 

The inclusive approach to curriculum and course design seeks to integrate those strategies that will help to create a safe, equitable and welcoming environment for all learners aimed at ensuring that all students feel seen, valued, and have a sense of belonging regardless of their age, prior educational experiences, traditional or non-traditional status, culture, identity, religion, beliefs, values, and attitudes, physical capabilities or challenges (Dewsbury & Brame, 2019; Lin, & Kennette, 2021: Waller et al., 2015). This approach began due to the Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an educational framework that emerged in the 1990s as an outgrowth of the universal design approach in architecture. UDL has gained momentum in education with the increasing awareness of the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion (Huang, 2021). 

So, how can you be more inclusive?

It starts with being mindful during your decision-making about your course to take into account ways to support diversity and equity and foster inclusion. Here are some suggestions:

  • Review the resources you use for your course, such as textbooks or articles, and consider
    • cost
    • does the textbook use images and language that represent diverse backgrounds
    • are the authors or contributors from diverse fields and backgrounds
  • Take a look at the pictures or photos you include on your PowerPoints. Are they diverse? Do they include marginalized individuals (LGBTQ, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, disabled, or differently-abled people?
  • What about the names and descriptions of patients used in case studies? Are they inclusive and diverse without stereotyping?
  • Consider how language is being used. Does it assume everyone's understanding of words is the same? Are slang or informal words being used that individuals for whom English is a second language may not understand? 

Although it is impossible to represent aspects of all students' lives or cultural backgrounds in your course, carefully integrating culturally diverse and personally relevant connections can demonstrate to students that diverse perspectives are valued in your classroom (Tanner 2013). 

Here are a few classroom suggestions: 

Wait Time

 We have the uncanny habit of not giving students enough time to think about the question we asked. We pick on the first hand that goes up instead of waiting. Some students just need more time to process the question before they feel comfortable with an answer, for which they are ready to raise their hand. Even though both faculty and students sometimes feel uncomfortable with silence, it is supportive of those students who need a little extra time to think. Be mindful not to always pick on the same students. Giving more wait time allows you to watch for those other hands to go up that don't usually and then select them (Tanner, 2013). 

Using Think-Pair-Share activities

Think-pair-share is a collaborative learning strategy where students interact to discuss or problem-solve a topic or problem. Activities like these help put students together so they get to know each other and can learn from each other. This can start as something simple, like students sharing about themselves, and gradually move into more academic-based assignments and tasks. The goal is for the teacher to create the groups at least most of the time because we know that, left to their own devices, students will pick the same students to work with each time (Huang, 2021; Tanner, 2013). A quick Google search will provide significant information if you are unfamiliar with Think-Pair-Share. 

Multiple Hands and Voices 

This is similar to giving students more wait time after a question. However, this strategy aims to increase student participation by requiring a minimum number of hands that must go up for each question asked and a minimum number of responses that must be provided. For example, the teacher can tell the students before asking the question that at least five students must raise their hands, and a minimum of three responses will be selected to share their responses. The additional disclaimer is that no one will be called on until the minimum number of hands raised has been met. This strategy also supports those students who don't respond to do so, and hearing from more than one student supports multiple views, perspectives, and voices (Tanner, 2013). 

Acknowledging and welcoming all students into our programs and classrooms is essential to meeting the healthcare needs of this country’s diverse population. I hope you consider ways to do so in your classes. 


Adams, C., & Chiwaya, N. (2024). Map: See which states have introduced or passed anti-DEI bills.


Dewsbury, B., & Brame, C.J. (2019). Inclusive teaching. CBE Life Science Education. DOI:10.1187/cbe.19-01-0021. https://www.lifescied.org/doi/pdf/10.1187/cbe.19-01-0021 

Fletcher, V., Bonome-Sims, G., Knecht, B., Ostroff, E., Otitigbe, J., Parente, M., & Safdie, J. (2015 The challenge of inclusive design in the US context. Applied Erognomics.46(Part B), 267-273. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apergo.2013.03.006 

Haung, C-Y.(2021). Walk the talk: Design (and teach) an equitable and inclusive course. The Teaching Professor. https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/preparing-to-teach/course-design/walk-the-talk-design-and-teach-an-equitable-and-inclusive-course/

Lin, P. S., & Kennette, L. N. (2021). Using inclusive teaching strategies to promote greater success among minority students. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/equality-inclusion-and-diversity/using-inclusive-teaching-strategies-to-promote-greater-success-among-minority-students/

Marijolovic, K. (2023). Bans on public college diversity offices would affect just state funding. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/bans-on-public-college-diversity-offices-wouldnt-just-affect-state-funding 

McBrien, E. (2021). Tips for evaluating textbooks for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Oregon State University. https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/inspire/2021/02/22/tips-for-evaluating-textbooks-for-diversity-equity-and-inclusion/ 

Rose, D. H., Harbour, W. S., Johnston, C. S., Daley, S. G., & Abarbanell, L. (2006). Universal Design For Learning in postsecondary education: Reflections on principles and their application. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 19(2). 135-151. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ844630.pdf

Tanner, K. D. (2013). Structure matters: Twenty-one teaching strategies to promote student engagement and cultivate classroom equity. CBE Life Sciences Education, 12(Fall), 322-331.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3762997/pdf/322.pdf

Waller, S., Bradley, M., Hosking, I., & Clarkson, P.J.(2015). Making the case for inclusive design. Applied Ergonomics, 46(Part B), 297-303    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apergo.2013.03.012 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003687013000513


50% Complete

Thanks for signing up!

 Watch for the newsletter in your e-mail.